Jesus: Our Good Shepherd

shepherd

How are you doing these days?

If you’re at all like me, you’re probably thinking that this whole social distancing thing is getting a bit old. Maybe you’re working at home (if you’re even working right now) and you’re finding it harder to get away from your job because your office is right across the hall from your bedroom. Maybe you live by yourself and social distancing has all but cut you off from the rest of the world. This past week, my granddaughter told her father that she just wants to play with her friends.

But life continues to unfold in other ways, too.

Imagine what it would be like to receive a telephone call telling you that your elderly mother decided to get into her car and take a ride, and was involved in an automobile accident that sent her to a hospital hundreds of miles away. Imagine what it would be like to hear that one of the teenagers in your family was involved in an accident, and know that you couldn’t even wrap your arms around his grieving mother. In 31 years of ministry, I have never had to bury a man before a funeral service and then promise his kids that I will “do right by your Dad” and have a memorial service when things settle down. And so, I ask you again, “How are YOU doing these days?”

I sometimes find it hard to connect with parts of the Bible.

The Bible contains genealogies where somebody begat somebody who begat somebody who begat somebody else. The Bible contains rules that tell us how we should wash our pots and pans, and rules that tell us what we should do if our neighbor’s cow wanders into our backyard and is injured. The Bible tells us that we shouldn’t be wearing clothing with a cotton/polyester blend; and the Bible, also, tells us that God doesn’t want us to eat bald eagles, ostriches, insects with wings and shrimp.

And I have trouble connecting with the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd,” too.

The only shepherd that I’ve ever know was my grandfather, who lived in a Conestoga wagon in the middle of Wyoming more than 100 years ago. I have trouble understanding the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” because I don’t usually feel lost or afraid that something “out there” is trying to get me. I’ve been blessed in many ways!

But the image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is striking me very differently, right now.

I’m feeling a little bit lost these days because many parts of my life have simultaneously changed. I’m reminded that there’s a deadly wolf, who is ready to pop out from behind a rock and even kill me, every time I see people wearing masks. Life isn’t easy for any of us right now; and perhaps, what we all need is a “Good Shepherd”? When you think of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” what images come to your mind? How is Jesus shepherding you, right now? How is YOUR faith affecting your journey through life, right now?

I’m sure that we all realize that it’s a bit na├»ve to think that bad things will never happen to us as long as we’re following Jesus.

My grandfather often talked about the mountain lions and wolves that tried to grab one of his sheep almost every day; and, “Sometimes,” he said, “one of them was successful.” Have YOU ever wondered why bad things happen to good people? Maybe something much bigger than social distancing in on YOUR mind, right now, because you have lost your job or can’t visit your parents in a nursing home? Jesus once said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.(John 10:10) Are YOU afraid that the thief is going to steal or kill or destroy you, or someone that you love? If you’re afraid of that, right now, please know that you’re not alone.

Jesus is our “Good Shepherd” as we travel through these unusual times.

Jesus is walking beside you as you. Jesus is leading you and guiding you and blessing you with faith even if you’re finding it hard to see Him as work in your life or in the world. And Jesus has also promised you that He’s come into the world “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s Jesus’ promise for YOU.

In the most famous psalm in the Bible (Psalm 23), the Psalmist writes: “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.” (Psalm 23:4a) And why isn’t the Psalmist afraid? Why don’t you need be afraid even as you travel through times like these? “Because you [God] are with me.” (Psalm 23:4b) God is with YOU.

Jesus is with you. Jesus has promised to bless YOU with abundant life.

May Jesus – our Good Shepherd – continue to walk beside you during these unusual times. And may Jesus – our Good Shepherd – bless YOU with the strength and courage and faith that YOU need as we continue to travel through these difficult days together.

 

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Keep Stirring!

stirring pot

Have you ever noticed that holidays bring back memories?

I remember the days when my one job on Thanksgiving was to stir the gravy, so that it didn’t get lumpy while it was coming to a boil. My mother would drain the turkey juices into a pan, put the pan on the stove, add some water and flour that she had shaken in her special little gizmo, and then she’d tell me to stir. And I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. I’d adjust the flame underneath the pan to speed things up. And then I’d stir, and I’d stir, and I’d stir. And at some point I’d always remember what my grandma used to say: “A watched pot never boils.” And, as funny as it sounds, Isaiah drew upon that image a long time ago – writing: “Oh, that you [God] would rend the heavens and come down – that the mountains might quake at your presence, just like when the fire causes a pot of water to come to a boil.” (Isaiah 64:1-2)

A pan of water doesn’t start to boil as soon as we put it on the stove, does it? When I was serving on Thanksgiving “gravy patrol,” I’d stand beside the pot of gravy – stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring – waiting for something to happen. And that’s, often, how life works, isn’t it…?

God doesn’t always change the circumstances in our lives (or in the lives of the people that we love) as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. God doesn’t always heal the illnesses that we face, or take away the sting of our grief, or heal our strained relationships as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. I’m sure that, at some point, we’ve all heard that “a watched pot never boils” because things don’t always happen as quickly as we’d like – but we just continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what this week’s message “Keep Stirring!” is all about.

St. Paul once wrote that all of Creation is groaning inwardly as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to fix it. (Romans 8:22) The prophet Isaiah tells us that from Days of Old, no one has heard – and no one has seen any other god than the Lord who comes into our world [and into our lives] (Isaiah 64:4) as we continue to stir and stir and stir. And that’s what Advent’s about. Stirring. Staying awake. Loving each other. Caring for each other. Supporting each other. Encouraging each other as we wait, together, for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His entire Creation and make it whole.

Have faith, my friend, and trust in the Lord. Always remember that the things that you’re doing – as you continue to stir and stir and stir – really matter (even though you don’t always see the fruits of you labor as quickly as you’d like). Love each other. Care for each other. Support each other. Encourage each other. And always remember that, as we wait together for the Great Day when God’s going to renew His creation, we need each other in order to be strong and courageous and active and faithful.

 

Read Through the Bible – Week 30

prayer-page

Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.” We’re excited that you’re here and hope that you will jump on board and join us as we read through God’s Word.

This week, we’re going to read one of my favorite passages in the Bible!

Just imagine the prophet Ezekiel looking across a valley that’s filled with sun-bleached bones. And as he’s walking in the field and stepping over skeletons, God asks him, “Can these bones lives again?” And Ezekiel answers: “O Lord, only you know that!” And then, Ezekiel is told to prophesy. And the bones begin to rattle and come together. The sinews begin to grow, muscles begin to form, and skin covers the bodies. And then, when Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the wind (spirit), the still-dead bodies are filled with “breath” and become living beings. A field full of skeletons becomes a field that’s filled with a living, breathing and marching army of strong and determined soldiers. Wow!

Where have you discovered valleys that are filled with sun-bleached bones in your life?

Perhaps, today, you’re discouraged because you’re facing a terminal illness, or maybe you are finding that it’s quiet overwhelming to care for an aging parent? Maybe one of your kids is struggling with an addiction to opioids, or will spend today in jail? Maybe you’re struggling through a period of unemployment, or maybe your ongoing struggle with a teenager is simply wearing you out? Maybe you’re being bullied at school, or at work? Maybe you’re buried under a mountain of bills and the telephone calls from the bill collectors simply won’t stop? Maybe you’re grieving the loss of someone that you dearly loved, or perhaps you’re watching your spouse struggle with dementia? The list goes on and on….

Life is filled with valleys that are covered with dry bones. We can feel both overwhelmed and numb when life continues to give us things that are simply unfair. But, the question is: “Do I believe that God can make circumstances in my life any different?” Or, perhaps: “Do I believe that God can bring hope and peace into a nearly impossible situation?”

The Bible tells us that the God who brought sun-bleached bones together, covered them with sinews and muscles, cloaked them in skin and brought them back to life is at work in our daily lives. That’s right! God’s at work in your life right now. God’s speaking words of new life and new possibilities even in times when the situations that we face appear to be impossible. God journeys with us as we travel through life step-by-step-by-step, and He calls us to have faith, to trust in His ability to lift us up, and to know that He’s walking right beside us – opening doors and blessing us with His strengthening presence even as we walk through seemingly-impossible times!

Here are this week’s readings:

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians 1-3 – Monday: Leviticus 19-21 – Tuesday: 2 Kings 16-20 – Wednesday: Psalms 87-89 – Thursday: Proverbs 13 – Friday: Ezekiel 37-42 – Saturday: Luke 23-24

 

“Already” but “Not Yet”

Christ lifting pic

I have always believed that one of the hardest parts of being a Christian is remembering how much God loves me when the circumstances in my life make me wonder if God even cares.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been listening to some wonderful promises. We’ve pictured Christ as a “Good Shepherd” who helps us to find “still waters” when we need a safe place to get a drink, and who guides us through all sorts of scary places when it’s easy for us to get off-track. We’ve listened to Jesus talk about Heaven, and we’ve listened carefully as Jesus has told us that He’s going to take us to Heaven when we die.

But we also live in a world where life’s tough, don’t we? Even though Christ speaks to us in a way that gives us hope and peace, the world’s pretty good at taking that hope and peace away from us, isn’t it? That’s what it is to live in the “Already, but Not Yet”.

In this week’s message, “Already, but Not Yet”, we reflect upon a wonderful promise as we think about Christ’s words: “I will not leave you orphaned.” (John 14:18) Christ tells us that He will continue to speak to us and to bless us with the wisdom we need to make good decisions even as we move through incredibly difficult times. God promises to dry our tears and give us courage when we lose things in life that we never imagined we’d ever lose. God promises to send the people that we need to lift us up and encourage us when we’re struggling. And as that happens (as we recalled last week), we can discover that “All will be well – and all will be well – and all manner of things will be well,” (Julian of Norwich)

The words “I will not leave you orphaned” are words that can carry us through life. The words “I will not leave you orphaned” are the promise of a Risen Christ who has told us that He’ll continue to stand beside us in every circumstance of life to hold us, to sustain us, and to make us whole.

Blessings!

The Heartbeat of God

Embrace

God has a wonderful plan for your future!

I suspect that many of us come to worship and invest our time in prayer because we want to experience a sense of the divine. We long for God’s presence in our lives, and we want to live “in tune” with God’s plans. We want to know that God’s walking beside us and giving us the strength that we need each day. And, perhaps most of all, we all want to know that God’s going to be with us when we face that one, inescapable moment in time when we close our eyes and quietly slip into eternity.

But, when we travel through times when our faith’s being tested, God’s “heartbeat” can become so soft and muted that it almost seems to disappear. God’s “heartbeat” can be silenced by our busy-ness. God’s “heartbeat” can be hard to hear when we find ourselves running from place to place because we’ve tried to squeeze too many things into our already over-packed schedules. But, if we listen carefully to the words of Jesus, we can know that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be OK. That’s what we explore in this week’s message: “The Heartbeat of God”

Julian of Norwich often listened to the “heartbeat of God” and she came away with a great and life-giving truth: “All shall be well – and all shall be well – and all manner of things shall be well.” Listen to those words today. Remember that Christ has gone before you to prepare a place where God shall wipe the tears from your eyes – and where there shall no longer be mourning and crying and pain for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Listen to the “heartbeat of God.” Open your ears as the Great Rabbi Himself, the Risen Christ, opens His arms and draws you close to His chest. All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Blessings!

The Lord is Your Shepherd

shepherd

Life changes quickly, doesn’t it?

I still remember the day when a doctor looked me straight in the eyes (at the ripe old age of 37) and said, “Wayne, I believe that your hands are shaking and your walking’s a bit shuffled because you have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I’m sure that a lot of people in America are trying to figure-out what happened in the House of Representatives last week because they’re not sure if their struggle with an addiction – or with a birth defect – or even with a mental illness is going to prevent them from being able to purchase health insurance in the United States.

Even though we’ve been raised to believe that we are “safe” in the United States of America, we can no longer ignore things like terrorism – and we live in an age where we need to spend time teaching our children about safe body boundaries.

And yet, even in the midst of a quickly-changing world, we’re reminded that God is a Great Constant in our lives. God continues to point us in the right direction. God is a Good Shepherd who continues to nourish and sustain us. God is always present when His sheep are grazing in green pastures – and even when His sheep are walking through the scary valleys of the shadow of death.

In this week’s message, “The Lord is Your Shepherd”, we’re reminded of the faithfulness of the God who continues to recognize the deepest need in our lives and who opens His hands to fill our lives with goodness. We’re reminded that the Lord is a Good Shepherd who watches over us and the people that we love, and how God has promised to be the one constant in life that never fails.

We all know that things can change quickly in our lives and in the world. We all know that the specific circumstances in our lives aren’t always easy to control. And yet, the Good Shepherd continues to journey with us – taking us by the hand and leading us through all of the crazy ups and downs that we’ll face as we journey through life.

Blessings!

 

God’s Creating Something New!

Butterfly

The Biblical theme of “darkness” has always fascinated me.

The Bible tells us that God moved around in the darkness long before He ever said, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) God wrestled with Jacob in the darkness (Genesis 32:22-31), and Jacob saw a ladder reaching into Heaven in the darkness (Genesis 28:10-12). We read that God moved through the land of Egypt and “passed over” the homes of the Israelites (Exodus 12:12) in the darkness. We read that the tomb of Jesus was found empty “at early dawn” (Luke 24:1) because God had raised the Christ in the darkness.

It’s easy for us to be overcome by the darkness these days. North Korea has been rattling its nuclear swords; and, last week, we witnessed the strategic dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs.” We’ve heard about innocent people being killed by poisonous gas in Syria and about millions of people starving to death in Africa. People are dying, every day, from drug overdoses and churches need to carefully screen volunteers before allowing them to work with children. We live in a world where relationships are hard, where our marriages can crumble and fall apart, and where young people are being bullied while they attend school.

And yet, the God who has worked “in the darkness” through all of human history is hard at work today! God’s creating something new, and God’s restoring what has been broken and what needs to be healed!

In this week’s message, “God’s Creating Something New!”, we’re reminded that God is at work in our world and that the forces of good shall prevail. The message of Easter is one that reminds us that, when it’s all said and done, the forces of good and the forces of God will surely prevail! And that’s what we really need to know, isn’t it?

Easter reminds us that God shall triumph; but Easter, also, sends us back into the world as people with a mission. Every time we leave our homes and our churches, we return to a world where we’ll be surrounded by darkness and bad news. Every time we leave our homes and churches, we’re challenged to speak to others with a conviction that springs from Easter courage and Easter hope!

Jesus Christ is risen! All the forces of evil and pain and brokenness have crumbled before the power of a God who even raises the dead! And, today, we can live our lives knowing that all of us – all of the people we love – and all of the people in our world – are securely held in the hands of a God who continues to work “in the darkness” and Who has surely promised us that He’ll lift us up to a better and more glorious Day.

Alleluia!

Planted Beside a Stream

Ohiopyle Falls - Edited for Enlarge

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Life makes people thirsty.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you believed that there just wasn’t enough of you to go around? Maybe you feel like a gerbil on a wheel that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and faster? Perhaps, you’re worried about someone that you love – or are struggling to navigate through a time of illness? Or, perhaps, you’re moving through a dry time in your walk with Christ and it feels like you’re moving through the “uninhabited salt land” that the prophet Jeremiah once described?

In this week’s message, “Planted Beside a Stream”, we are drawn into a fascinating story about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus beside Jacob’s Well and who was promised that Jesus could give her the “Living Water” that bubbles-up to Eternal Life.

What does that “Living Water” taste like? How does the Good News of the Gospel that proclaims that you have a Lord who gives you courage when you’re afraid, peace when you’re anxious, strength when you are feeling weak, and hope even at the moment of death affect the way that you face the challenges and obstacles in your life, right now?

The community of Taize often sings a hymn that contains these words: “By night, we search for the source of living water because it is only our thirst that guides our way.”

What would “Living Water” taste like, right now? How can the life-giving news – that God has planted you beside a stream – sustain and renew you as you journey through life?

Let’s travel to Jacob’s Well and listen to the words that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman nearly 2,000 years ago; and, as we listen to Jesus speak, let’s stop for a moment and think about what His words and promises can mean to us today.

Blessings!